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My Man Godfrey: The Criterion Collection

As exciting as it can be to enjoy a recent Hollywood blockbuster on DVD in Dolby Digital or DTS blow-out-your-speakers nirvana, an equal pleasure can be had from enjoying a film that's languished far too long on home video in sub-par versions, but now restored to its former glory. My Man Godfrey (1936) is such a film, as it's been available for years on cheap public-domain videotapes (and even on DVD) in a murky, neglected state. Thankfully, Criterion's DVD edition of Godfrey offers a splendid presentation and several thoughtful supplements, giving renewed life to this aging classic. William Powell stars as Godfrey, a "forgotten man" who lives at the local dump and whom Bullock sisters Irene (Carole Lombard) and Cornelia (Gail Patrick) want to use to win a scavenger hunt. Irene convinces Godfrey to come to the contest for her, and after winning the competition she offers Godfrey a job as the Bullock family butler. Godfrey takes the job, but he soon realizes that the Bullocks are virtually insane — mother Angelica (Alice Brady) is a babbler who sees pixies when suffering hangovers, and her protégé, artist Carlo (Mischa Auer), has no discernible talents other than a voluminous appetite and the ability to imitate a monkey. Meanwhile, sister Cornelia plots petty revenge on Godfrey because he pushed her in an ash pile, maid Molly (Jean Dixon) spends her time making fun of the family, father Alexander (Eugene Pallette) is entirely befuddled and also sounds like a bullfrog, and Irene is lovelorn for Godfrey, caring for nothing else when he's nearby. Godfrey was directed by former film-animator Gregory La Cava, who understood how to balance a screwball comedy between the absurd set-pieces and hilariously sharp dialogue. The well-assembled cast are superb with rapid dialogue (a reason why Powell, Lombard, Brady, and Auer were all nominated for Oscars, along with screenwriters Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind and director La Cava). But the secret to any great screwball comedy is the supporting players and — though Lombard and Powell were never better — actors like Eugene Pallette and Mischa Auer were masters at making their 15 minutes of screen-time count (Auer's monkey routine is both humorous and perfectly bizarre.) The restored My Man Godfrey on Criterion's DVD is a joy to see — the restoration (presented in the original 1.33:1) displays a lot of the finer details that have been washed out by previous public-domain transfers. Audio is in the original mono (DD 1.0), and English subtitles are also available. Supplements include an academic commentary by film historian Bob Gilpin, outtakes (featuring the cast swearing), a still gallery, Depression-era shorts, the original theatrical trailer, and the Lux Radio Theater adaptation, hosted by Cecil B. DeMille and starring William Powell, Carole Lombard, Gail Patrick, Mischa Auer, and David Niven. Keep-case.

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